Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dangerous medical abbreviations

Almost all abbreviations have multiple different expansions. More often than not, it it easy for a human to disambiguate the meaning of an abbreviations that has alternate expansions. For example, you can distinguish AKA ("above knee amputation") from AKA ("also known as"). The context of a sentence determines the meaning.

However, there are many abbreviations that cannot easily be disambiguated, even by experts in a knowledge domain. These abbreviations sometimes arise from what I call "term-drift," wherein another, very similar term, with the same abbreviation, is mistakenly used, and where this misuse gains a foothold in medical culture.

Abbreviations that cannot always be disambiguated are particularly dangerous and are a potential source of medical errors. Here are some examples:

1. ABG aortic bifurcation graft, or aortobifemoral graft

2. AHA acquired hemolytic anemia, or autoimmune hemolytic anemia

3. ASCVD arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or arteriosclerotic cerebrovascular disease

4. CHD congenital heart disease, or congestive heart disease, or coronary heart disease

5. DOA date of admission, or dead on arrival

6. EDC estimated date of conception, or estimated date of confinement ("due date" means almost the opposite of "conception date")

7. HZO herpes zoster ophthalmicus, or herpes zoster oticus

8. IBD inflammatory bowel disease, or irritable bowel disease

9. LLL left lower lid, or left lower lip, or left lower lobe, or left lower lung

10. MCGN mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis or minimal change glomerulonephritis

11. MVR mitral valve regurgitation, or mitral valve repair, or mitral valve replacement

12. NC no change, or noncontributory

13. NKDA no known drug allergies, or nonketotic diabetic acidosis

14. PE pulmonary effusion, or pulmonary edema, or pulmonary embolectomy or pulmonary embolism

15. SK seborrheic keratosis, or solar keratosis

16. UVF ureterovaginal fistula, or urethrovaginal fistula

In June, 2014, my book, entitled Rare Diseases and Orphan Drugs: Keys to Understanding and Treating the Common Diseases was published by Elsevier. The book builds the argument that our best chance of curing the common diseases will come from studying and curing the rare diseases.

I urge you to read more about my book. There's a generous preview of the book at the Google Books site. If you like the book, please request your librarian to purchase a copy of this book for your library or reading room.

- Jules J. Berman, Ph.D., M.D. tags: common disease, orphan disease, orphan drugs, rare disease, disease genetics, medical abbreviations, disambiguation, dangerous abbreviations, medical nomenclature, medical transcription, electronic health record, ehr, emr, medical errors, medical mistakes, medical terminology, ambiguous terminology, terminology pitfalls and confusing terminology